Georgia Swarm pro lacrosse introduced at Gwinnett Center
By: Paul Thomas
Published: Thursday, July 16, 2015
DULUTH — When Georgia Swarm owner John Arlotta and his son and co-owner Andy Arlotta decided to relocate their National Lacrosse League franchise from Saint Paul, Minn., earlier this year, they had specific requirements for their team’s future home.
They didn’t want to move to an area that just had a rabid lacrosse fanbase, they wanted a city that provided an arena that could provide their organization with a partner.
“January or February we started to look around,” said John Arlotta, who also serves as the team’s general manager. “It took us three or four months. We looked at a number of different cities, but this one rose to the top almost immediately. Then when we met the people here it absolutely rose to the top because we were looking for a real partnership for our team and the arena.”
Arlotta said the leadership of the Arena at Gwinnett Center and the arena itself made Gwinnett an attractive location for the franchise, which announced the move south on May 29. The team held an introductory press conference on Thursday in front a few hundred fans and youth lacrosse players.
In addition to the arena, Arlotta cited the growing lacrosse community in the metro Atlanta area as an attractive selling point, as well as the overall population of Gwinnett County.
“This is the perfect place for this lacrosse team,” he said. “This is the perfect place to do what we think can be done, relative to our team and franchise. (The arena is) the perfect size for us, the players that we brought here today looked at it and said, ‘Wow,’ as well. This is just a great arena, you’re so fortunate to have this arena here in Gwinnett County. It’s an amazing place and it’s a big reason we wanted to relocate here.”
Having a franchise located in Georgia won’t be just a big boost for the Gwinnett area and the lacrosse community, but NLL commissioner George Daniel thinks it could have a lasting impact on his nine-team-league.
Currently the majority of the teams are located in the northeast and Canada, with no teams further south than the Colorado Mammoths. The addition of a southern team gives the league more leverage with prospective sponsors and broadcast partners (currently the league’s games are broadcasted locally by each team’s media partners and streamed online by WatchESPN. The Swarm are still working to find a local broadcast partner).
“It’s very important,” Daniel said. “It gives us a real foothold obviously in this part of the country, Gwinnett County, the greater Atlanta area, Georgia and really the entire Southeast. When you’re speaking with prospective sponsors and television networks, I think one of the issues we’ve had at the league level is we haven’t had a presence down here. That’s somewhat kept the league off the radar in some respects in this part of the country. The sport has traditionally been seen as predominately Northeastern and that’s changing. Obviously, the participant level has been changing rapidly here and across the county, and it’s been changing at the collegiate level — Denver University won the national championship this year, we’ve had a presence in Colorado and the western states for some time, but we haven’t had a real presence here so it’s absolutely important.”
The Swarm hope to officially be up and running in Duluth by Aug. 13, with their inaugural game set for January of next year. The NLL plays an 18-game season, meaning the Arena will host nine home games. Tickets are expected to be made available before the end of the summer, with single-game tickets starting at $19 for group rates.
On Thursday, the organization promised that it was moving to Gwinnett to do more than just sell lacrosse tickets. Co-owner and president Andy Arlotta vowed that the Swarm would be part of the community, including hosting camps and clinics for the youth lacrosse players in the area, just like it did in Minnesota.
“We’ve had a history of becoming extremely involved in the community, whether that’s on the lacrosse side of things or the school side of things,” he said. “We feel that it’s very important to give back to the community that has us here. You name it, we’ve done it. Whether it’s local charities, volunteering at the local Ronald McDonald House or whether it’s creating box leagues so that these kids can develop their lacrosse skills. It’s extremely important and I feel personally that it’s one of our No. 1 missions here is the need to give back.”
The other mission of the team is to win. The Swarm were 6-12 last year and haven’t had a winning season since 2012.
Since the franchise is relocating and not an expansion team, it brings a full 20-man roster to Georgia. The team features 2014 Co-Tewaaraton winner (lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy) Miles Thompson. With the No. 1, 3, 5 and 6 overall picks in September’s draft the Swarm will likely be able to grab four potential starters, including Thompson’s younger brother Lyle, who is the NCAA all-time Division I points leader.
“This isn’t a new team,” said head coach Ed Comeau, who was hired July 3. “This is a team that’s been together. We think we have a lot of great players, a lot of character-quality people involved. This year is an exciting year for us coming up in the draft. We have an opportunity to select some great players as well. We’re all excited about being in Georgia, and we’re excited about getting the season started.”